Upon Reflection (25 September-29 September)

Time to consider weekly global headlines in an ever-changing world

Selected News Headlines

for the
Working Week
25 September-29 September 2017

Trump: Iran is violating the nuclear deal. Top US general: no, it isn’t.

27 September 2017 Washington D.C., United States – Vox – In a display of defiance of the White House chain of command, Joint Chief of Staff, General James Dunford contradicted his president’s opinion regarding the Joint Comprehensive Plan for Action (JCPOA), otherwise known as the Iran nuclear deal.

President Trump, a long-time critic of the Obama-era diplomatic ‘solution’ to Iran’s nuclear breakout, said Iran was violating the JCPOA. Dunford on the other hand voiced his view that JCPOA had “delayed Iran’s development of nuclear weapons”.

This divergence of opinion on a very important international security issue demonstrates the difficulty that even Trump’s most senior military personnel have to grapple with – a president who revels in acting as a ‘rogue agent’.

As America’s commander-in-chief, the buck stops with the President of the United States. Stability, perseverance and predictability are what constitute rational leadership and the US president should willingly take advice from his senior military and civilian leadership team.

The current situation adds unnecessary strain on US-Iran relations. Should the Mullahs in Tehran miscalculate Trump’s intentions by taking his comments at face value, there is the risk of them walking away from JCPOA, leaving the Middle East in a greater mess than it is presently in, and with Israel poised to act unilaterally against Iran’s nuclear program.

What is becoming clearer by the day since January 20, 2017 is that President Trump is a disruptor, not a confidence builder. Where international security is concerned, relations between rivals need a steady hand and a cool head. It is not getting that from the Trump White House.

Spain to deploy police to prevent Catalan independence vote

27 September 2017, Madrid, Spain – The Guardian – While the Middle East awaits with bated breath the outcome of the Kurdistan Regional Government’s referendum on independence, Europe is on edge as Catalans prepare for their own independence vote on October 1.

The dispute between Barcelona and Madrid is complex, but it essentially revolves around the Catalan region carrying a disproportionate share of Spain’s economic reconstruction since the country’s 2008 debt crisis. Catalans have also re-established their distinctive cultural assertiveness against Spain’s Castilian dominant cultural group.

Madrid has deployed police into the restive region to disrupt the polls and intimidate voters from participating in the referendum. The likelihood of skirmishes and violence leading up to the poll is high and while talk of civil war has been bandied about, this could only happen were the Spanish government to overreact to perceived or real local provocations. Passions are running high on both sides.

The problem of Catalan independence is not just a Spanish one. There are many cultural groups throughout Europe that live uneasily under the cultural dominance of others. An example of this is the recent Scottish referendum on independence from England. Should Barcelona achieve its desired end-state, this will have a profound effect on the countries of the European Union, as well as the EU response to spontaneous state breakdown in Spain and elsewhere.

Massive ‘yes’ vote in Iraqi Kurd independence referendum

28 September 2017, Irbil, Iraq – AFP, SBS Wires – In perhaps one of the most destabilising events in the modern history of the Middle East since the founding of Israel in 1948, the world witnessed Iraqi Kurds vote in favour of independence.

The vote saw a 72.6 percent turnout of which 92.7 percent voted in favour of independence from Iraq.

While Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) leader, Masoud Barzani, said that the vote would not mean an automatic declaration of independence – the people have spoken and this in itself carries with it the promise of an independent Kurdistan that will cross over into the borders of Syria, Turkey and Iran – all states harbouring significant Kurdish minorities.

In response Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi was quick to disregard the vote and its significance, threatening to wind back the KRG’s political autonomy from Baghdad.

While the Iraqi government seems united behind al-Abadi, the Iraqi state is in no position to easily recapture the KRG in part or in whole. Its military is still tasked toward anti-ISIL operations, though as the Islamic State presence in Iraq winds down, the prospect of a battle-hardened Iraqi military turning their attention toward the KRG over the next couple of months is high, backed by neighbouring Iran who also wants the KRG brought to heel lest its own Kurdish population rises up against Tehran.

It is likely that the KRG Peshmerga, its highly organised, well trained and equipped militia, will resist any Iraqi government push into its domain. War between Kurds and Arabs in Iraq is a given; it is only a question of time and whether Iraqi Kurdish and Arab forces will be left to fight alone, or whether Iranian and Turkish forces will join the fray.

In the meantime, a tightening of economic sanctions against the KRG will act as a precursor to conflict. Turkey has already indicated that it will ban the importation of KRG oil, the biggest earner for the autonomous region. And it will close its border with the KRG. Iraq has threatened to ban all international flights into the KRG unless Irbil (the KRG capital) relinquish its two international airports to Iraqi authority. Iran has been relatively quiet, but it no doubt has its own contingency plans that will be rolled out over the ensuing few weeks.

Significantly, the US, a long-time supporter of the KRG’s autonomy has refused to recognised the independence vote. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson saying: “The United States does not recognize the Kurdistan Regional Government’s unilateral referendum held on Monday. The vote and the results lack legitimacy and we continue to support a united, federal, democratic and prosperous Iraq.”

With the prospect of no American support, the KRG’s only friend in the region is Israel – a country that strategically benefits from seeing the states that surround it fighting among themselves.

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